Jerry Lee Gothard is one of the best pianists, singers and entertainers we have ever had in Chattanooga. He is also one of the best men I know and the quality of his friendship has made a big difference in my life.
How his name came to be the same as the king of rock and roll from Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee has never been told to me but there is more likeness there than the name. He plays so much like Jerry Lee Lewis that I cannot tell the difference. When he lost his voice box to throat cancer it left a big empty feeling in the bottom of my soul.
When you are the best in a town, there are always musicians who are jealous of you. Maybe they just think it will raise them a notch to put down a greater talent. So when I hired Jerry Lee in my Dalton Gang Band, a couple of musicians said, “Boy, you are in for a ride! Jerry Lee has an ego big as an elephant.”
After he had been in my band for a few months I got weary of running the band and I asked Jerry Lee to take over for a while. He agreed and we changed the sign to read, “Jerry Lee Gothard and the Nashville Sounds.” In a few months he got weary of being boss and we changed the sign again to “Dalton Roberts and the Dalton Gang.” Over the years this got to be a source of laughter to everyone as we changed the sign back and forth. If he had ever had an ego problem, this proved he had gotten over it.
Those same musicians said he had a drinking problem. In all the years we were together, I never saw alcohol cause any unprofessional behavior or affect his performance in the least. He was solid as a rock and completely dependable. It was an absolute joy to be on the stage with him.
The only problem I ever saw with him was a tendency to put himself down. One night when he was really flogging himself I said, “Stop the car, J.L.” When he stopped I got out and said, “If any man ever put you down the way you have been putting yourself down tonight, I’d try to punch him out. But the only thing I can do if you want to talk yourself down that way is get out of the car and walk back to where I am parked.” I slammed the door and started walking.
Jerry got out of the car and apologized. He said, “Man, I had no idea I was getting on your nerves. Please get back in the car and I promise to not run myself down another time tonight.” He kept his word.
It shocks me but J.L. sometimes feels his life has not been very useful. I guess he is unable to realize the great joy his music brought to people all those years when his name on the marquee guaranteed a full house. Maybe he thinks no one remembers him now that he is unable to sing. His only social activity these days is to take his beloved mother to the community Church of Christ.
After the incident where I got out of the car rather than listen to his self-deprecation, he called and asked me to fill in on lead guitar one weekend. When he paid me, he handed me a grocery sack and said, “It’s just a little token of my appreciation.”
Curiosity overcame me and as soon as I got to my car I opened the sack. Inside was a mirror with these words printed on it: “Love thine own self.”
J.L., I’m still working on that and I pray you are, too.
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